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2011 Outstanding Achievement Award: Terence Macartney-Filgate

“Terry taught me the difference between what was happening and what was needed for the editing process. He constantly reminded me to look through the viewfinder and to be aware of what was being recorded. We were collaborating, but I learned so much from him. He was very sensitive to the feelings and responses of the people in front of his camera; I regarded him as an ideal ‘listening cameraman.’ He showed me that the so-called ‘vérité approach’ could be frightening to many of the people in front of the camera and to relieve that situation by making himself a ‘person’ rather than a recordist.” — George Stoney

For over half a century, working at the National Film Board, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and independently, filmmaker Terence Macartney-Filgate has been a highly influential and crucial figure in documentary culture. Opinionated, fearless and modest, Macartney-Filgate – like his contemporaries, Maysles, Leacock, Pennebaker, Brault, Koenig, Kroitor – has shunned didacticism to make powerful documents about people that are rich in emotional content while always exploring new forms of filmmaking. This combination of humanism and invention has earned him renown as a valued collaborator and superb director.

“I remember Terry as a witty and curious young man at the NFB,” states famed documentarian Colin Low. “He invited me to see his 1958 film on tobacco farming, The Back-breaking Leaf. Is was a photographic knockout and I still remember some of the shots.”

Born in England in 1924, Macartney-Filgate spent his boyhood in India and was an RAF flight engineer during the Second World War. After the war, he took a degree in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University before moving to Canada in 1954. Working at the NFB, he directed his first film in 1956, and then worked extensively as a producer and cinematographer on seven of the 13 films in the NFB’s groundbreaking Candid Eye series. He helped refine the free-form, unscripted, observational approach and is considered perhaps the most important single influence on the direct cinema style of the series.

Director, producer and animator Gerald Potterton first met Macartney-Filgate in the mid-fifties, when the NFB had opened their new production facility in Montreal. “It signified an exciting new time in filmmaking,” states Potterton. “Young English-Canadian filmmakers would mingle with young Francophone filmmakers when something called cinema vérité was suddenly all the rage and the likes of everyone from Wolf Koenig to Claude Jutra were cranking out classics like Lonely Boy and Les Raquetteurs. Terry was in his element.”

In 1960, Macartney-Filgate briefly joined Drew Associates in New York, where he worked on films with D.A. Pennebacker and the Maysles, including Primary (1960) directed by Richard Leacock. Leacock: “I have always loved and admired Terry. He’s an original thinker, a delight with the camera, and a good friend.” Albert Maysles shares this sentiment: “I’ll never forget filming with Terry on Primary. His images were essential to the task of helping pioneer the new and exciting invention of direct cinema. Besides, it was a lasting pleasure to work with Terry.”

Macartney-Filgate went on to work independently in New York, winning a Peabody Award for his 1964 film, Changing World: South African Essay. He rejoined the NFB in the late ‘60s, working on the Challenge for Change series, and then moved to CBC, where he achieved prominence in the mid-‘70s with such major documentaries and docudramas as Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Road to Green Gables (1975), Grenfell of Labrador: The Great Adventure (1977), Fields of Endless Day (1978) and Dieppe 1942 (1979). His 1992 CBC documentary, Timothy Findley: Anatomy of a Writer, was honoured at the Geminis with the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary Program.

Film scholar Peter Harcourt remembers working with Macartney-Filgate at Queen’s University in the 1970s, shooting footage with his students during a charity event. “I persuaded Terry to join us on camera and to supervise the day’s production,” says Harcourt. “He had played a seminal role in the kind of grab-shot techniques characteristic of direct cinema but I didn’t quite understand how. Using a 16mm Éclair NPR with its omni-directional viewfinder, Terry would zero in on a bunch of boys, get them in focus, and then abandon the viewfinder, engaging them eyeball to eyeball while he talked to them. They’d soon forget they were being photographed. As they moved in and out, or back and forth, so Terry would move in and out and back and forth with his camera. He was focusing with his body! When later I marvelled at this technique, Terry replied, ‘Well, they might all be out of focus.’ But of course they weren’t. that was one of the techniques that helps explain the intimacy of his unique shooting style.”

A brilliant thinker, generous collaborator and exceptional innovator, Macartney-Filgate has had a profound and lasting impact on the art of documentary filmmaking.

Presented by the National Film Board of Canada

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